Beethoven / Concerto No. 3 / Hendl / Graffman in Living Stereo

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven

More Concerto No. 3 / Hendl / Graffman

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This rare RCA Shaded Dog has SUPERB SOUND as well as a top performance. Super Hot Stampers for both sides means that this pressing has the real Living Stereo magic in spades. Unlike most of the RCA concerto recordings (Rubinstein’s come immediately to mind in this regard), the brilliant soloist featured here is not overly spotlighted, hence the more credible “concert hall” sound. The piano is part of the orchestra, allowing all the contributions of the musicians to be heard clearly, with each of the orchestral sections laid out beautifully across an especially huge and deep Orchestra Hall stage.

The spaciousness and three-dimensionality of the recording here is also exceptional. Through the efforts and skill of the RCA engineers, that striking openness in the recording never comes at the expense of a tonally correct and natural sounding piano. The piano is clear, never lost in the space of the huge hall the way it would be on an EMI from the ’70s for example. (All that weird SQ washed-out sound is just not our thing, sorry.) 

There may be other performances of merit, but I know of no recording of this music with better sound. If you are demonstrating naturalistic recorded sound, not bombastic Hi-Fi Spectacularity, this pressing truly qualifies as a DEMO DISC. (more…)

Bryan Ferry – Another Time, Another Place

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More Another Time, Another Place

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  • Triple Plus (A+++) on side two, Double Plus (A++) on side one, this is one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • The British Island originals are the only way to go, and this one just plain trounced most of the others we played
  • Tubey Magical, rich, smooth, sweet – everything that we listen for in a great record is on display for everyone to hear
  • Allmusic: “Ferry and company, plus various brass and string sections, turn on the showiness enough to make it all fun.”

Both sides of this record are just as rich and relaxed as you would expect. The balance is correct, which means the top is there as well as the bottom, with good vocal presence throughout. (more…)

Dave Brubeck Trio Featuring Gerry Mulligan – Compadres – What to Listen For

More Dave Brubeck / More Gerry Mulligan

More Compadres

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album, or any live album for that matter.

As is the case with most live albums, the sound of the crowd tells you a lot about the recording, and on this copy the crowd sounded exceptionally clear and natural.

Many live albums have crowds that are either too bright, or too loud between tracks, both of which can be very off-putting. When the crowd is recorded and mixed right — again, these are pros from Columbia Records who really know their jazz — you feel as if you are immersed right there with them in the audience. (more…)

Dave Brubeck Quartet Time Further Out – What to Listen For

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More Time Further Out

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The best copies such as this one demonstrate the big-as-life Fred Plaut Columbia Sound at its best (better than even Time Out in our opinion). These vintage recordings are full-bodied, spacious, three-dimensional, rich, sweet and warm in the best tradition of an All Tube Analog recording. If you want to hear big drums in a big room these Brubeck recordings will show you that sound better than practically any record we know of. The Engineering tab below has much more on that subject. 

The one standout track on this album for audiophiles is surely Unsquare Dance, what with its uncannily real sounding handclaps in 7/4. The copies that did the best job of reproducing that “flesh on flesh” sound of actual human hands clapping scored very well in our shootout.

More to Listen For

For starters listen for a fat snare and rich piano on the first track of side one. When you hear that, assuming you do, you should know you are in for a treat. Our best copies captured those two sounds brilliantly.

On the second track the clarity of the brushed snare is key to how resolving and transparent any copy is. The rich, smooth sound of Desmond’s sax balanced against the clarity of the brushes will help you make sure that the overall sound is tonally correct from top to bottom. (more…)

Neil Young Harvest – Nautilus Reviewed

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More Harvest

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Sonic Grade: B

Another Half Speed reviewed. We haven’t played a copy of this record in more than a decade, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. 

This is a SURPRISINGLY good sounding Nautilus Half-Speed mastered LP with AMAZING transparency. The sound here is DRAMATICALLY more natural than your average audiophile pressing.Just listen to the phoney top end found on most MOFIs to see what we mean. On this record you’ll hear non of the hyped up highs that are MoFis claim to fame.

This Nautilus is sure to destroy a typical American pressing, which will tend to sound opaque, thick and dull. This wouldn’t really match up to our Hottest Stampers but you could sure do a lot worse. Although it’s a tad fat at the bottom, it still retains much of the warmth and richness found on the best copies.

Judy Collins Wildflowers – 1967 Elektra Tape Vs Vinyl – Where’s the Tubey Magic?

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More Wildflowers

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We were surprised that so few copies had the Tubey Magical qualities that we’ve come to expect from Elektra in 1967. The label was home to two very well-recorded (by none other than Bruce Botnick) bands at the time, The Doors and Love. What happened here? John Haeny, the engineer, worked on Waiting for the Sun, which is an amazing sounding Doors album on the right pressing. Why so few great sounding Wildflowers? 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Michael from Mountains 
Since You Asked 
Sisters of Mercy
Priests 
A Ballata of Francesco Landini 

Side Two

Both Sides Now
La Chanson des Vieux Amants (The Love Song of Old Lovers) 
Sky Fell 
Albatross
Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

Genesis – Foxtrot

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More Foxtrot

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  • This early Peter-Gabriel-led Genesis album from 1972 boasts killer Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • One of the toughest in the catalog to find with good sound and quiet surfaces – you need the right UK pressing to even be in the ballpark – but this copy delivers the proggy goods like gangbusters
  • 5 stars: “Foxtrot is where Genesis began to pull all of its varied inspirations into a cohesive sound – which doesn’t necessarily mean that the album is streamlined, for this is a group that always was grandiose even when they were cohesive, or even when they rocked, which they truly do for the first time here. This is the rare art-rock album that excels at both the art and the rock, and it’s a pinnacle of the genre because of it.”

This vintage British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)

Straight Answers to Your Questions – Are Hot Stampers Just Original Pressings?

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope these comments will be of value.

Are Hot Stampers just original pressings?

They certainly can be, but quite often are not, which of course comes as a surprise to no one who works here. Reissues come out on top in our record shootouts fairly regularly. Yes, most of the time the original will beat the reissue, but most of the time is far from always, and since we have to play a big pile of copies anyway (and always with the person doing the sound grading kept in the dark about the pressing on the turntable), why not just evaluate both the originals and the reissues at the same time, and do so strictly on the merits? (more…)

Buckingham Nicks – Watch Out for Too Fat and Too Rich

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album. 

The biggest problem with this record is sound that gets too fat and too rich. There has to be transparency to the sound that lets us listen into the studio. When Stevie is singing, almost always double-tracked by the way, Lindsay is often doing harmony vocals well behind her, double-tracked as well.

You want to be able to hear PAST her all the way back to him and hear exactly what he’s doing. Most copies don’t let you do that. 

The other problem is smeary guitar transients. The multi-tracked acoustic guitars tend to be rich and sweet on practically every copy you can find; this is not the problem. When they lack transient information, the right amount of “pluck”, they also tend to lack harmonic information, the overtones of the notes. Put those two together and you get a blobby mass of smeared guitars overlaid onto one another — not an irritating sound, but not an especially pleasing one either.

Hotstamperville

What we’re always trying to find in these shootouts are copies with the right BALANCE. When everything fits together nicely, when the mix sounds right and all the parts are working their magic separately and together, you know you are on the road to Hot Stamperville. You may not be hearing the best copy ever pressed, but you are undoubtedly hearing a copy that has The Kind of Sound You Want.

British Sound from Yanks

Those of you who read our commentary for Commoner’s Crown will recognize this bit, lifted practically whole from the listing. The British Sound? This record has it in spades:

The sound is rich and full in the best tradition of English Rock, with no trace of the transistory grain that domestic rock pressings so often suffer from. The bass is deep, punchy, full up in the mix and correct. There’s plenty of it too, so those of you with less than well controlled bass will have a tough time with this one.

But never fear; it’s a great record to tweak with and perfect for evaluating equipment.

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc. You will have a very hard time finding a record with a punchier, richer, fuller, better-defined, dare I say “fatter” bottom end than the one found on both these sides.

Notice how there is nothing — not one instrument or voice — that has a trace of hi-if-ishness. No grain, no sizzle, no zippy top, no bloated bottom, nothing that reminds you of the phony sound you hear on audiophile records at every turn. Silky-sweet and tubey-magical, THIS IS THE SOUND WE LOVE.

We Love The Music Too Of Course

We really enjoy this album here at Better Records. It’s a wonderful preview of things to come for these two. Check out the early version of Crystal. On the best copies, it is warm, rich, and sweet — just like it is on the best copies of the Fleetwood Mac self-titled LP. In fact, many parts of this album bring to mind the best of ’70s Fleetwood Mac. Fans of the self-titled LP and Rumours are going to find A LOT to like here.

The Cars – Here’s the Big Rock Sound We Love

More The Cars

More We Love Dynamic Choruses, and These Are Amazing!

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The first two Cars albums were both in The Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 at one time, with good reason: they’re superb recordings. The Cars have been in “heavy rotation” on my system since their albums came out in the late ’70s. We started doing shootouts for both right around 2006 or 2007, and they continue to be a regular feature of our Rock Hot Stamper section, not to mention some of the most fun shootouts we do in any given week.  

Before then had you ever read a word in any audiophile or record collecting publication about how amazing the originals can sound? Of course not. Most of the audiophile types writing for the stereo rags wouldn’t know a good record from a hole in the ground.

If anything the typical audiophile probably has one or both of the disastrous Nautilus half-speed mastered versions, and, having played them, would not be inclined to think highly of the sound. We knew better than to waste our time with that muck. Recently Mobile Fidelity has taken upon itself to remaster a selection of the band’s titles with the same flawed half-speed mastering approach. We haven’t played any of them and don’t intend to. We know that sound and we don’t like it.

Our point, other than to bash a record we have never played, is simply this: if you have any of those MoFi versions we would love to send you a copy of the album so that you can hear for yourself what it’s really supposed to sound like.

If you have Big Dynamic Speakers and like to rock, you can’t go wrong with a Hot Stamper Cars album. Neil Young albums have the Big Rock sound, and if you’re more of a Classic Rock kind of listener, that’s a good way to go. We’re behind you all the way, just check out the commentary for Zuma linked above.

For a band with thin ties, leather jackets, jangly guitars, synths and monstrously huge floor toms that fly back and forth across the soundstage, Cars albums are going to be the ones for you.



Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

Some of the most important advice on our site can be found under the heading of The Four Pillars of Success.

Here you can find more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.